Finns hold off host Swiss
by Lucas Aykroyd|20 APR 2023
During Finland's 4-2 win over Switzerland at the 2023 U18 Worlds in Basel, Finnish forward Konsta Helenius confronts Swiss goalie Ewan Huet.
photo: Matt Zambonin / IIHF
Kasper Halttunen scored the go-ahead goal with 8:19 left as Finland earned a 4-2 opening win over host Switzerland on Thursday night. The resilient Swiss tied it up after trailing 2-0 in the second period, but couldn't complete their comeback.

"I think we really played a good game," said Swiss forward Leo Braillard, who scored his team's first goal. "Our goalie helped us a lot too. Even if we lost, it was a good start. We can still do better."

On the winner, Halttunen, the Finnish captain, cut in off the left side past Switzerland's Matteo Wagner and stuffed the puck through goalie Ewan Huet.

"When I got the puck, I knew what I was going to do, and I put it in the net," said Halttunen.

Under first-time head coach Lauri Merikivi, the Finns are questing for their fifth U18 Worlds gold medal. They previously triumphed in 1999, 2000, 2016, and 2018. Last year, they claimed the bronze medal by beating Czechia 4-1.

Finland dominated the scoreless first period with a 15-6 edge in shots, although coach Marcel Jenni's Swiss boys exerted good pressure during a mid-period power play with Halttunen off for elbowing.

Emil Jarventie broke the deadlock at 5:41 of the second period, going bar down with a lightning wrist shot from the right faceoff circle. The goal came on Finland's fifth power play of the game.

"It felt amazing that it was the first goal for our team," said Jarventie. "I think it gave everybody so much energy."

Just 35 seconds later, Tom Leppa got loose in front and backhanded home his own rebound for a 2-0 lead.

The Swiss responded with determination. At 16:07 of the second period, Braillard cut the deficit to 2-1 on a Swiss man advantage, zapping a high one past kneeling Finnish netminder Eemil Vinni. The rink resounded with "Hopp Schwiiz!" chants and ringing cowbells.

"I got a chance on the power play and I play in the same spot with my club team," Braillard said. "I got a good shot off from a good angle. It was nice to score."

At 18:24, the crowd erupted when Wagner intercepted Finnish blueliner Veeti Vaisanen's pass up the middle and evened the score, surprising Vinni with a high shot to the glove side.

"That didn't affect us as much as you could imagine," Merikivi said of Finland. "The players were pretty cool. They knew that we could win this game. We just had to play our own game."

Early in the third period, Jesse Kiiskinen thought he'd restored Finland's lead in a goalmouth scrum. But the play was video-reviewed and the goal was nullified due to a kicking motion from the 17-year-old Lahti Pelicans forward's right skate.

During a mid-period Swiss power play, Vinni's strong positioning enabled him to deny Simon Meier on a great chance from the slot.

Halttunen praised Vinni: "He's a very good goalie. We can trust him. He made a couple of big saves today."

After Halttunen's goal, the Finns clamped down defensively. With 2:10 left, the Swiss used their timeout to strategize and pulled Huet, but Jesse Nurmi rounded out the scoring with an empty-netter nine seconds later.

Final shots favoured Finland 37-18.

Finland’s all-time U18 Worlds record versus Switzerland improves to 14 wins, three losses, and one tie. The Swiss last beat the Finns in a 5-1 shocker in Tampere back in 2007.

The Swiss have only medaled once at this tournament, earning a surprising silver medal in 2002.

On Friday, both Finland and Switzerland have a big opportunity to add three points in the Group B standings. The Finns will face Latvia, which lost 7-1 to the Americans in its opener, while Switzerland takes on newly promoted Norway.

"We're going to get a good sleep, eat some good food, and do our best to get a big win tomorrow," Braillard said.

In Thursday's pre-game ceremony, Swiss Ice Hockey Federation President Michael Rindlisbacher and IIHF Senior Vice-President Petr Briza officially opened these U18 Worlds and welcomed fans to the games in Basel and Porrentruy. The excitement is just beginning.
Finland vs Switzerland - 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship